Parker Posey's prodigious work ethic finds her frequently pitching in extra help on lower-budgeted productions. She fetched coffee for Billy Kent, the director of one of her recent films, The OH in Ohio, and made the call to get Heather Graham on short notice for an unbilled part after another actress dropped out. Posey also suggested and snagged Justin Theroux for a part in her new film, Broken English.
"I like getting involved," she said. "I'll take care of it. It comes from independent film; I got used to it - there's tape on the floor, pick it up. It's just an awareness you have, like peripheral vision when you're Rollerblading in traffic. It comes from being on a lot of sets."
Broken English, which opens next week and was screened at the Maryland Film Festival, follows the recent Hal Hartley film Fay Grim into theaters, and both movies use the spark of Posey's whirligig presence to motor their action.
In particular, Broken English seems to mark another turn for the actress, bringing a newly plumbed depth and tempered emotionalism to her work. Also marking a change in her career will be The Return of Jezebel James, Posey's first role as a regular on a television series. (The show will air midseason on Fox.)
The debut feature of writer-director Zoe Cassavetes, Broken English follows the romantic and emotional misadventures of a New York City woman and charts the path to self-discovery that eventually leads her on a fanciful trip to Paris with much comic effect. After the premiere of Broken English at the Sundance Film Festival, Variety called Posey's performance "pitch-perfect."
Dubbed "Queen of the Indies" by Time magazine 10 years ago, Posey has been somewhat living in the shadow of that title ever since. Her early films, including Dazed and Confused, Party Girl, Kicking and Screaming, The House of Yes and Clockwatchers, made her something of a turn-of-the-century archetype for the caustic, cynical, whip-smart modern gal. She has since racked up a filmography of more than 50 titles, including four films for director Christopher Guest. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in the TV-movie Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay.
Posey, 38, deflects any implication that she is entering some new "mature" phase of her career by noting how fluky she still finds it when she's cast in anything at all.
"There's this perception that I have all this control," she said, "as if the roles that I've done I've chosen. It's a weird thing people have, this idea of actors, like I've been actually waiting for a long time to 'do something like this.' But I don't have control over any of that. I read something, and I get cast in it or I don't."
Though she is still largely associated with the world of independent film, Posey has for some time also been appearing in mainstream Hollywood fare. She brings unexpected zest to such roles as a vamped-up vampire in Blade: Trinity or as Lex Luthor's softhearted moll in Superman Returns.
The Return of Jezebel James, produced by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, best known for Gilmore Girls, follows a children's book editor (Posey) who reconnects with her estranged sister (Lauren Ambrose) when she recruits her sibling for a surrogate pregnancy.
"I've had TV deals," Posey said. "I had a holding deal. I had a Parker Posey pilot once, and they said, 'We like the pilot; we just don't want to do it with Parker.'"
According to Sherman-Palladino, it was Posey's unexpected range which made her want the actress for the part. "To me, the thing I was excited about is there's this sort of untapped - not that Parker hasn't tapped it, but I think America hasn't tapped into the fact that Parker is truly an actress, not just this sort of bouncy, loopy, indie comedienne. This girl's got deep, deep, deep, skills."
Not surprisingly, Posey initially avoids discussing her own acting technique, her process, as they say, by saying dryly, "It's all hair and shoes."
She sparks to a question, however, as to whether her deeply felt performance in Broken English as Nora, an unmarried thirtysomething woman in New York City, might have something to do with similarities to Parker Posey, an unmarried, thirtysomething woman in New York City. "I don't know if she's the most like me. I was saying that for a while."
After another ambiguously long pause, she continued. "It's easier to work on a character based on where the tragic flaw is, where the pain is and the fear. And then, it's what is on top of that. Like Kitty in Superman, she is kind of blind. Nora, too. I like playing people who aren't seeing what everyone else is seeing about them. You know what Nora is, you know where her trouble is, it's written all over her, but she doesn't [see it]."
Mark Olsen writes for the Los Angeles Times.